South Africa and Africa as a whole are notorious for having the most resilient start-ups, as we often joke that if you can build a start-up in Africa and make money, you can build a start-up anywhere.
We made many mistakes, as many start-ups do but our belief in Africa is immense. We believe Africa will be producing the real impact start-ups for the future, as most of our biggest start-ups are born out of necessity instead, to solve real-world problems.
However, we too have a growing graveyard of start-ups that were once the next up-and-coming uber of something but have fallen victim to the start-up world. We believe Africans have the ability to solve Africa’s problems, so this is our guide in hopes of assisting those Africans that want to start the journey.
The start-up journey
The journey of each start-up is quite different, it requires a sort of creativity, perseverance, work ethic, and care that is unrivaled by many.
Despite the journey being different and unique, there are specific activities and parts of the journey that is shared amongst all technology start-ups i.e. finding a co-founder, getting funding, testing if you are solving a real problem, and developing a business model.
The next part of this guide will be focused on things to consider when starting and continuing on your journey in the early stages.
The idea with the guide is to tackle one section at a time in-depth and then move on to the next as it all requires thought and consideration before making your final choice.
Things to consider when starting your journey
- Your Vision
- Founding team
- The Problem
- Your Target Audience
- Your Competition
- Your Solution
- Understanding Your Market
- Keeping Scale in Mind
Ask yourself: Why are you walking on this journey?
Begin by considering your vision’s end goal. Consider what the world might be like if you had a cutting-edge and impactful solution.
One of the key reasons why many of your early team members will join you is because of your vision. Never lose sight of the human aspect of what you’re trying to achieve when thinking about the vision.
Within your business journey, your vision becomes a crucial story that often attracts more than just team members, but also investors, supporters, and the community as a whole. Every day when you wake up, the story you tell yourself about your journey must be consistent with the story you tell others about your journey. As an entrepreneur and founder, you must believe in the vision.
Ask yourself: Who is on your team and why?
Putting together a team is seen to be a difficult and time-consuming task. Nontechnical founders frequently feel they should simply hire a technical co-founder, and technical founders frequently hire another technical founder without considering factors such as who will sell and who will create.
Here’s a list of items to think about before picking your team.
How diversified are your team’s skillsets?
- If you’re a technical founder, make sure your talents complement each other. For example, if you’re designing a product that uses IoT or mobile, make sure one of you can master a certain component to boost productivity.
- If you’re a non-technical founder, make sure you have a mix of abilities, such as one who is great at business development and another who is great at building the company’s internals and branding.
2- Are your roles clearly defined?
- Make sure this is clear from the start. It is frequently a highly debated problem that arises afterward.
- Make sure it’s clear who’s selling, who’s in charge of finance, who’s in charge of administration, who’s in charge of marketing, and who’s in charge of technical.
3- Can your partner be an employee-first without giving him equity?
Sometimes non-technical founders jump on this one quickly because they believe they need a developer from day one. The quick answer is, it depends. Most of the time, start-up products should start with high-fidelity prototypes that can be user-tested, which means no technology needs to be built yet. If you are able to get your product to start generating revenue or get access to seed/grant funding and you cannot find a very good tech co-founder, it is better to pay for the service than just give off equity.
4- Create a clear map for where the company is going and how you plan on getting there.
Having a North Star is important when trying to attract anyone to join your team. Most of the time, people are buying into the vision of the company and the founder’s belief rather than just for the sake of getting the next gig.
5- Have a shared scoreboard
Having a shared scoreboard will detail the main priorities and how close you are to getting to where you want to be. This also ensures that all team members understand what true north is.
6- Keep reminding the team of the priorities
Even if it feels repetitive, once you have a simple plan, you must continuously remind your team of the priorities. It is common for people to need to hear something several times before they actually remember it. Marc Cenedella, CEO of the job-search website TheLadders.com, gave a useful rule of thumb: “You say something seven times and they haven’t heard you,” he said. “Until they start making jokes about how often you repeat it, they haven’t internalized it.”
7-Create team culture
Create a team culture to help shape the structure needed to get there. Make a list of those values and keep them visible; not long lists, but short ones, and be very specific.
Culture, culture, and culture. We cannot emphasize this enough. When you start paying attention to the culture you are creating and what you want it to become, If you, as a founder, decide to only work half days in the very early days, don’t be surprised if your team follows suit. You can either allow your culture to arise or you can be deliberate about the culture you want to create.
8- Respect the team
Respect the team to make the right decisions and lead. As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
9- Set the tone for the expected behaviour of your team
There is an old saying that most parents tell their kids “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” How often did you ever listen to them?
10- Accountability is a two-way street
To achieve full trust, engagement, and unity in any business, each leader must be willing to be held accountable for their actions and attitudes.
Ask yourself: What is the problem you are solving?
When it comes to documenting or defining your problem, start with an overview and then narrow it down to a specific problem. An example of this is where South African small businesses have many complaints, but the three main concerns are usually access to the market, finance, and resources. These are general problems. Then, depending on the teams’ skills and experience, and where funding is most likely available, will dictate where the focus will be directed. In South Africa, this is usually around access to finance or markets.
So, let’s go with access to finance as our main theme. Now we will need to drill down into finance to see the more granular problems. How we drill down incorporates many strategies like research, running workshops with your potential target audience, and connecting directly via LinkedIn or in-person with specialists in the area. Through these engagements, we will discover problems to address. A very popular approach to problem-solving today (been out for a while) is using design thinking workshops. They are focused on listening, user empathy, whole brain thinking, collaboration, and experimentation to address latent human needs.
4. Your Target Audience
Ask yourself: Who is your target customer?
Understanding who your customer is more important than the product you build. If you decided in the previous section to conduct workshops to identify potential customers then most of this work is done for you, hence we advocate running workshops with your audience to get real-world feedback. If you did not run workshops there are many approaches you can take for example:
- Collect demographic data on your target audience
- Send out customer surveys
- Look for trends in online customer feedback
- Create a market positioning map
- Engage with social media audiences
- Develop a persona about your target audience to drill down to who they really are.
|Challenges||Sources of information|